May 22, 2017 Interview – Josh McDermitt
Life is full of risk – the bigger the risk, the greater the reward. Leaving a good job behind in his home state of Arizona, Josh McDermitt headed toward Los Angeles, California to pursue a career in acting, thus diving into the unknown. Thankfully the gamble paid off and after building himself as a comic, as well as several film and television appearances, McDermitt landed the role of a lifetime in 2014 as Dr. Eugene Porter on AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead. Going from a complementary character to a mainstay, McDermitt has found a home on the cast of The Walking Dead, but being a realist, he knows it will not last forever. Recently we caught up with the laid back actor to talk his time on The Walking Dead, the June 9th nationwide theatrical release of Middle Man, future plans, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Last we had spoken, you had said how your venture into acting full-time was a sort of risk, but it all seems to be working out very well thus far. How would you describe the past decade?
Josh McDermitt – Well, I just had my ten year anniversary of moving to Los Angeles, so it’s funny you said a decade. I moved to LA right before the writers’ strike ten years ago, and now we are here on the doorstep of another writers’ strike, which is kind of funny. I’m in a completely different place in my career than I was ten years ago, which is great, but you know it’s a struggle. You have wins, you have losses. You have to remain positive, that’s probably the biggest challenge; to not get yourself down. I think humans, actors especially, tend to get down on ourselves if things aren’t necessarily going according to plan because there’s a lot of uncertainty and lot of the unknown. That has always been a challenge.
But hey, this is my third career in my life. I moved to LA a little later in my life than when most people move and I feel like I’m better for it. If I moved out at 18, I probably would have given up by now, but I guess it’s working out. It could all come crashing down at any moment and that’s something that I’m very aware of because that just happens. People stop working for whatever reason, and if I stop working I may continue plugging away or I’ll go do something else. I don’t care (laughs). As I said, this is my third career, so I have no problem changing and doing something else. As long as you keep doing what you love, you’ll be happy. Right now, I still love acting, so I hope I don’t quit.
CrypticRock.com – Hopefully not. As you said, it is sort of a roller coaster, right. Perhaps the most delightful part of it all has been your role a part of AMC’s The Walking Dead. You began as an intriguing character and have developed in a main character. What has that experience been like for you?
Josh McDermitt – Anytime your character changes it’s a good thing. There are shows that you can be on where your character just doesn’t change much, that’s an easy gig and everything, but something to keep you actively engaged in the script, in the performance, and in the character is when your character does go through changes. So I’m really happy with the changes that Eugene has gone through. It’s fun, it’s exciting, I like that. It’s cool and it allows me to be seen for other things as well. It’s not just, “Oh we get it, this is the one performance he does,” but it’s a full on arch and that’s really cool.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Fans have seen Eugene go from a sort of lovable goofball to an almost hero, to now a turncoat. It is really compelling to see the development of his character. You just really never know where it is going to go.
Josh McDermitt – Yeah, and even I don’t know where it’s going to go and that’s kind of the beauty of it. It keeps me on my toes and I enjoy that. It would be a very boring show to work on if our characters never change. If you look at every character from the moment you meet them to the moment where you last have seen them; they’re a completely different person. Carol, Daryl… I hated Daryl! He was such a jerk, and then you start to get to know him and you start to see why he is the way he is. You start to see the changes he’s going through and he’s turned into one of my favorite characters. Norman is just a brilliantly nuanced performer and actor and kudos to him for that. People have asked me, “A lot of people probably hate Eugene right now, do you wish they liked him?” I tell them I don’t care, at least they’re feeling something. It’s not my job to portray a character that everyone likes; it’s my job to portray a character with truth and honesty. So if you hate the character that probably means I’m doing my job.
CrypticRock.com – Could not agree more, it is about bringing sincerity to the character. As you are probably aware, the reaction to season seven of The Walking Dead has been very polarized. Some fans love the tension building and the storyline while others are growing impatient with the pace. As someone directly involved in the making of the season, what are your feelings of it all?
Josh McDermitt – I don’t really pay attention to what each and every person feels about the show, everyone has an opinion. I’m not going to say any opinion is valid or invalid. We’re trying to create something that people react to and people feel something; there’s emotions involved. I get it. As long as that’s happening then that’s fine. I like where the story is heading and I’m really excited about Season 8. Hopefully it will be around for a while and if not, I’ll move on to something else. The exciting thing is I’m starting to get other opportunities; Twin Peaks is coming out this May and then also this movie, Middle Man, that I did a couple years ago, is finally getting a theatrical release. So there are other opportunities in which I’m able to do stuff. That’s kind of where my focus is; I try not to focus on the ebb and flow of the emotions of anything. I just try to focus on the story, focus on the character, focus on moving forward.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. As you said, beyond The Walking Dead, you have been cast in various other roles and most recently you starred in the forthcoming Dark Comedy Middle Man. The film is set for release on June 9th. Tell us, was this made prior to you joining the cast of The Walking Dead?
Josh McDermitt – I want to say it was June 2015 when we did this. I had done a series with Jim O’Heir called Parks and Recreation where I played Jerry and he played my father. We hit it off and became great friends. He was producing and getting ready to start another movie called Middle Man. The Director Ned Crowley and Jim had been friends forever, Ned is a huge The Walking Dead fan.
They cast Andrew J. West, who played Gareth the cannibal in Season 5, the Terminus guy. Ned asked Andrew if he knew anyone who could fill this other role, the role of T-Bird, and he said, “You might want to look at Josh McDermitt for that.” Ned was like, “The weird guy from The Walking Dead?” He was a huge fan, but at this point we didn’t know much about Eugene and we thought he was just kind of socially awkward and he didn’t really see it. Andrew said, “No, no, no. Seriously, take a look at him.” So he asked Jim O’Heir and he told him, I’m thinking of looking at Josh McDermitt for this role, what do you think?” Jim said, “I’ve worked with him, I’m friends with him, let’s do it.” That’s kind of how I got involved with it. They made a script; I read it and it was brilliantly dark, twisted, funny, and I loved it.
It was really cool to be a part of this film from the get-go, from the early stages, and to be able to have as much feedback as well as give as much input as I could. Sometimes you step into a project, you just show up, do your job, and you go home. It’s not always such a collaborative effort. That’s what we have on The Walking Dead and that’s what we had on Middle Man; it certainly felt comfortable, cool, and really fun. I’m just happy that we’re finally getting a theatrical release.
CrypticRock.com – It is exciting. It is long overdue. As stated, Middle Man is certainly a darker kind of comedy. Your character is an arrogant tough-guy type. It is sort of a shift from what most know of you as Eugene in The Walking Dead.
Josh McDermitt – I think a lot of times we get to know someone for who they are in a certain role and that’s what we only think of them as. As an actor, you get to wear many different hats and wear as many different masks as possible. I think this guy T-Bird in this movie Middle Man is more opposite of Eugene, so it’s fun to kind of get out and stretch that muscle and mix it up. My scenes were with Jim, so it was really cool to be opposite of him because he’s doing a different character than I’ve seen him portray and even a different character from our last on-screen relationship. The dynamics we’re different and Jim is such an awesome, loving, talented, and gifted actor. If I could work with him on every project that I do, I’d be a much happier person, I know that. I’m not saying that I’m not happy; he just brightens everyone’s day, he is so awesome.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you have that working relationship and friendship. With Middle Man, you had a chance to work along with The Walking Dead alumni Andrew J. West as well as Jim O’Heir and Anne Dudek. All whom are equally compelling and funny. Speaking of Andrew, he is almost unrecognizable from what you would know of him in The Walking Dead.
Josh McDermitt – I want to say that even before we met him, Andrew on The Walking Dead, he wasn’t really playing these darker characters, I believe he told me that at one point. He does it so well that you almost have a hard time believing that. With me playing Eugene, I’ve never played anyone like Eugene before. I usually do comedies where I’m wacky and goofy, so I think getting these roles on The Walking Dead, playing something opposite from what we usually play, opens the doors to play a whole selection of other characters. I think that’s what happened with Andrew too. He was seen in this dark role and people thought he would play this other darker role perfectly, and he does. It’s very dark, grounded, and silly. He just plays this maniac that is just silly and it’s awesome. It’s a nice change of position.
CrypticRock.com – It is definitely entertaining from beginning to end. It should be fun to see people’s reaction to this offbeat tale. In many ways, it is reminiscent of a Tales from the Crypt episode. Would you agree?
Josh McDermitt – Yeah, it’s very stylized. It was very much on purpose. Ned definitely wanted to have a certain look, feel, and rhythm; a kind of heartbeat to this film that you wouldn’t necessarily find in anything else he’s done. Ned is such a great writer, upon reading it, for me, the script just jumped off the page. I know exactly how stylized it can be. It’s interesting that you bring up a Tales From the Crypt sort of vibe because I could see that. We definitely were going for a certain style and I think it’s definitely within that world.
CrypticRock.com – Well it worked very well. You had mentioned you will be a part of the new Twin Peaks series. What was that experience like?
Josh McDermitt – They kind of have a gag order on us, so I can’t really talk too much about it. I can say it was exciting and fun. I remember Twin Peaks when I was a kid. I didn’t really watch it, my parents watched it and their friends watched it. They all talked about it the next day after seeing it. It is kind of reminiscent of what is going on with The Walking Dead right now. People get together to watch this show, they talk about it at the water cooler, they have Facebook groups to discuss plot lines, characters, etc. It was kind of exciting to be a part of a show that started about all of that. I will just say it was awesome and I am excited to be a part of it.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds quite compelling and it will be exciting to see it. Kind of off topic, rumor has it is you are a football fan. Is it true that you own stock in the Green Bay Packers?
Josh McDermitt – It is true. The team is owned by the fans so they do stock offerings, they have only done about 4 or 5 throughout history of the franchise. Basically they don’t have one owner like a Jerry Jones type throwing money at everything. If they need money for the renovation of the stadium or if they wanted to add 7,000 seats, they offered stock. I scooped up a bunch of stock and helped pay for the new addition to the seats at Lambeau Field. It is great because I am an owner and get perks! I can vote for certain people to head the board, they have a shareholders meeting every July in Green Bay. I know some people kind of role their eyes at it, but there is nothing like this in professional sports and it is really cool to be a part of it.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great thing, something very special for fans. It would be interesting if more franchises did such a thing. Last we spoke, you had said you are kind of scared of Horror films. That in mind, have you seen anything lately Horror or Sci-Fi related that you enjoy?
Josh McDermitt – I’m still kind of trying to avoid that. I have been able to get into some movies and I try to watch them during the day if I can. That certainly helps keep me from having nightmares at night. I have a very sensitive soul, but I liked James Gunn’s Slither (2006), I saw that. I want to say I saw the Dawn of the Dead 2004 remake. I thought that was funny… I don’t mean funny, but just awesome and it was also written by James Gunn.
I’m a big James Gunn fan, but I still haven’t seen the original George A. Romero version and I need to. I know that it’s probably scary for a kid when you first see it. It came out in 1978, so it had a huge impact on someone young like that, but now I would probably watch it and I probably wouldn’t be as scared. I just need to find a day to do it with light coming through the windows and other people around so that I don’t get scared because I’m a pussy (laughs). I also saw 28 Days Later (2002) and I loved it!